The Importance Of Training Frequency For Natural Bodybuilders

The Importance Of Training Frequency For Natural Bodybuilders

If you are new to bodybuilding, you may wonder which day to train certain muscles and how often for the best results.

As such, we have drafted Nicola Joyce to look at the science behind it. Plus. Nicola has her very own experience to support any opinions as she has won two world amateur bodybuilding titles.

Cited references are available at the bottom of this page.

LAST UPDATED: February 2019 by Ben.

Best training split for size and mass

Picture the scene…

It’s Monday evening in the gym. Every bench is taken, and the only dumbbells available are the 5’s and the 50’s. Ah – must be Chest Day!

If Monday is still “Chest Day” for you (and every other body part has its own day, too), then it might be time to rethink your training split, and for the better.

Because the concept of increased training frequency is leading the way for natural bodybuilders who want more size, strength, and mass. That’s all of you, right?

The classic body part split was made famous by the big-name (and big physiques) of assisted bodybuilding.

Assisted is drug fueled to you and me. Steroids and growth hormones. 

The Mr Olympias and IFBB Pros of the world.

As a natural bodybuilder, you’re never going to be one of them.

Even the most genetically gifted, hardest working drug-free bodybuilder will simply never have the same experience of the sport.


You need to train as a natty – because that’s what you are.

So – what is the best training split for a drug-free bodybuilder?

Let’s assume your goals are hypertrophy (muscle gain), size, strength, and generally improving the look of your body. Right?

Right. So let’s start by looking at the research.

The most recent research into this area suggests that a focus on training frequency is key.

Brad Schoenfeld is the main man doing plenty of valuable work into hypertrophy for drug-free bodybuilders.



Research Studies & Training Frequency

Take a look at Schoenfeld’s 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis, published in Sports Med 

“Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”.

This paper focused on resistance training frequency as an approach for maximizing muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth). [1]

Frequency means either the number of resistance training sessions performed in a given period of time, or the number of times a specific muscle group is trained over a given period of time.

This paper found that there is:

“a significant impact of training frequency on hypertrophy effect size…with higher frequency being associated with a greater effect size than lower frequency.”

Schoenfeld et al concluded that:

“the current body of evidence indicates that frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week. It can therefore be inferred that the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth…”

If you’re really into this topic, there are a ton of other studies, papers, and reviews you could look at.

A good starting point is Brad Schoenfeld’s work in this area – he is a relentless researcher and a leading name in the field.

Try his 2016 meta-analysis into muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load resistance training, his 2015 paper “Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men”. [2]

Or his 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis in to dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass. [3]


How Many Times Should You train a Muscle Each Week?

So what does that mean for you?

Now you know that the ideal scenario is training each muscle group twice per week (rather than “chest on a Monday”), how should you program this in?

Several training protocols exist which could help you tick the boxes, depending on how many days per week you train in the gym.

You could cycle an upper/lower split, or do push/pull/legs followed by a rest day (then go again), or set out a 5-day training split as push/pull/legs/upper/lower.

Training frequency is a great way to manipulate training volume.

If you alter how often you train a muscle group, but keep the total training time of your sessions the same, you can vary volume over time – and this will have a huge impact on your progress.

It is clear that natural lifters should apply higher weekly frequencies to training muscle groups if they want to see gains in size and mass.

Twice a week (per muscle group) has been shown to be optimal. [4]

Three times per week could be even better, but no research supports this at present (and it’s probably impractical for most of us).

Training a muscle once a week isn’t redundant – it’s better than nothing – but it’s not optimal.

Bear in mind that higher training frequency can’t be your go-to split forever.

Like anything, you will need to cycle your frequency for progressive overload.

High training frequency could lead to over training or under-recovering if you go at it week after week with no variation.

Be sure to periodize your training frequency, using de-loads to reduce frequency, volume, and intensity.



Training Frequency Take Home

The bottom line is that training each muscle group once per week is definitely not optimal for unassisted bodybuilders.

Ideally, you need to be putting training stimulus through each muscle twice a week for the best response – and results.

How you do this is up to you.

Be realistic – don’t set yourself a training system that won’t work with your job, your home life, your commute, or your recovery capabilities.

Start by looking at how many times per week you train.

If it’s only 3 times per week, you will need to do a full-body session every time.

That’s the only way you’ll be able to train each body part twice in a weekly period.

If you train 4 times per week, try:

  • upper – lower – upper – lower

For those who train 5 times a week, try:

  • push – pull – legs – upper – lower


Or how about repeating a 4-day cycle of push/pull/legs/rest on an ongoing basis?

The choice is yours.

But one thing is clear: training each muscle more often is the best route to more size, strength, and physique development.


[1] Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. Review

[2] Muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load resistance training: A meta-analysis. Schoenfeld BJ, Wilson JM, Lowery RP, Krieger JW. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(1):1-10. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.989922. Epub 2014 Dec 20.

[3] Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct;29(10):2954-63. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958

[4] Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197. Epub 2016 Jul 19. Review.

nicola joyce fitness writer taking notes

Article by:

Nicola Joyce (aka “the fit writer”) is a fitness industry copywriter who has been writing for and about sport and fitness since 2004. Nicola is a competitive drug-free bodybuilder (with two World titles at amateur level) and has also competed in powerlifting and a couple of strongman comps. Prior to her strength training days, Nicola was an endurance athlete and has even swum the English Channel twice. She can be found on all social media at: thefitwriter.


The Importance Of Training Frequency For Natural Bodybuilders
Article Name
The Importance Of Training Frequency For Natural Bodybuilders
Two times amateur international bodybuilder Nicola Joyce talks us through the frequency of training required for optimal muscle growth.

Ben BA(Hons), PGCert

Ben established this site to be a free resource in 2015. Since then it has gained over half a million visits. He has always been interested in sport and he started playing rugby at the age of 6 represented his town, county and school. Ben also enjoys cycling, has started skiing and is in the Army Reserve representing his Regiment as part of the 150 Regimental Shooting Team. He holds a bachelor's and postgraduate degree in sport exercise & nutrition.

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